My quick thoughts on the Musician Pegasus R-2R DAC:
The Pegasus is an R-2R Ladder Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) made by Chinese brand Musician. They are a new brand, which some have lumped with Denafrips, but Musician has their own expanding lineup of DACs, amplifiers, and streamers now. The Pegasus was their first product and one I purchased recently at their retail price of $1099 USD.
The Musician Pegasus uses a resistive ladder design instead of typical DAC chips that are found in many popular DACs out there that are normally using ICs from ESS, AKM, Cirrus-Logic, or Texas Instruments/Burr-Brown. This much more complex design requires matching many, many resistors and soldering each onto an intricate circuit board to create the conversion. Many of these DACs can be quite expensive, with some of the flagship products costing well over $10 to $20,000 USD.
In the case of the Pegasus, it is on the lower end of the R-2R market place as it stands today, though many may see that its still priced higher than many traditional DACs from Topping, SMSL, or the rest. The Pegasus does not cheap out on design choices or input/output.
The machined aluminum chassis is very well built and feels very premium with a unique 3-legged foot design and interesting bevels. The back of the unit has a variety of inputs and outputs. It’ll output both single-ended RCA and balanced XLR, while taking in USB, Toslink Optical, Digital Coax, and the HDMI-based I2S. In both USB and I2S formats, the Musician Pegasus can take in sample rates of up to 1.536KHz, which is a whopping 32X sample rate, or two to four times more than most DACs on the market. It’ll also transcode DSD format as well.
The high sample rate plus the “Non over-sampling”, or “NOS”, button makes a nice combination for users like me who rely on the third party up-sampling software, HQ Player, to do a lot of the DAC up-sampling, filtering and noise-shaping dirty work. In this case, I was able to up-sample to 32X without a hitch using Sinc-L filter, and I found the results quite pleasant.
On the hardware side, I really wished that Musician had included a remote control feature, and that all inputs were active when on. Each input is disabled when you change to a new input, and without the remote feature, it does require getting up and manually pressing the input button on the front of the device. Not a huge deal for some, but those who use this in a living room set-up or away from your seat of choice, it can be cumbersome if you use a variety of sources.
At the time of purchase, I had been primarily using the Chord Qutest DAC in my main headphones listening station paired with the Bakoon AMP-13R headphone amplifier, and Hifiman Susvara headphones. I also have a Wyrd 4 Sound USB Recovery regenerator in-between the Roon Server PC and the DAC. I also use a variety of other gear such as the Sennheiser HD600 and HD800S, but the majority of my listening time comes with the Susvara.
I haven’t had an R-2R DAC sitting in my home before, and the few times I’ve heard them were at meet-ups. I have owned the Schiit Bifrost 2 previously, which is also a multi-bit DAC, but uses a chip-based implementation and not an R-2R Ladder. I had heard about R-2R’s warmer and more natural tuning, so I had some expectations coming in.
Surprisingly, I found the Pegasus to have a very neutral sound signature that had a slightly above neutral low end warmth and a sweet and smooth treble, though slightly rolled-off in NOS mode (without HQ Player) and less so on standard over-sampling mode. This was mostly in comparison with the Qutest, which I found to be very neutral, incisive, but not analytical.
If I were to really dig into the weeds, I’d say that the Qutest takes transients with a slightly edgier attack, while the Pegasus is more rounded, with a smoother finish. The Qutest excites with detail because of this, while the Pegasus still has all the detail but transitions gentler. I also think the Qutest has a bit more “slam” than the Pegasus, which is a tad soft in this respect.
Without HQ Player, I did find the Qutest had a bit more depth, maybe an extra layer of detail. When I added HQ Player to my chain and upsampled to 1.536KHz to a NOS-enabled Pegasus, it really shined. The HQ Player’s up-sampling, filtering, and noise shaping scheme added a noticeable rise in resolution, depth, and a slightly added mass to many of my tracks that really gave the Pegasus an even more natural and refined sound.
In my combination of headphones, amplifier, HQ Player/Roon settings, and DAC inputs, I decided to keep the Musician Pegasus in my system. It gave a different, but more natural and softer sound to my Susvara than the Qutest and I actually ended up appreciating that over the faster and edgier sound of the Qutest from time to time.